This article is written by Akanksha Yadav, a student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. The author pays a tribute to Prof. Menon, who has passed away recently, by way of this article which mentions his major contributions in the legal field as a teacher and as an institution builder. She has also shared his vision for improving the legal education system in India.
How I came to know about Prof. Menon?
I am a student whose level of general knowledge is very low and I have to research well on an issue to understand the depth of the matter. It would not be wrong to say that I am one of those persons who are least aware of what’s happening around the world unless something catches my attention and I go through it thoroughly. When I first read about the passing of Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon, I glanced at the headline like a usual obituary post and didn’t even care to read the full article. Later, I saw the internet and social media were flooded with the posts talking about him, remembering him and thanking him.
After a few days, I attended Dr. Arghya Sengupta’s book launch and panel discussion on “Independence and Accountability of the Indian Judiciary” where the same name popped up again. Dr. Sengupta dedicated his book to two persons and one of them was Prof. Menon, the eminent personality who dedicated his whole life to uplift the standards to the legal education system and career in the legal field. On the panel, Dr. Aparna Chandra, who was also an alumnus of National Law School of India University, Bangalore along with Prof. Sengupta, remembered Prof. Menon. She very briefly shared about his teaching methodology, his enthusiasm, him being an inspiration to his students and many other emotions which cannot be expressed in the words.
All this made me realize exactly what loss we had incurred because of the death of Prof. Menon. He was not just the father of modern legal education in India but more than that, he was a great personality and a good human being. This degree of B.A.LL.B and all the dreams attached to it, all of this is only possible today because of Prof. Menon. Though he would not have cared that if I have dedicated a post to him, I’m writing it as an obligation and duty on behalf of all the law students who owe to him due to various reasons which I have discussed in this article.
Who was N.R. Madhava Menon?
Neelkanta Ramkrishna Madhava Menon was a prominent lawyer and educator in India. He is known as the father of modern legal education in India due to all the great achievements he made in the field of law. He spent his whole life in bringing the legal education in India to the global standards. In 2003, the Government of India honoured him with India’s fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri for all the contributions he made for elevating the status of modern legal education in India. He was also awarded the Living Legend of Law award by the International Bar Association for restructuring the legal profession and Indian Legal Education. He was also a major contributor in establishing corporate law firms in India.
His legal education and early career
Prof. Menon was not in the career of law from the beginning. He pursued and finished his degree of B.Sc. in Zoology in 1953. After pursuing his B.Sc, he decided to study law for further studies. He opted for Bachelor of Law (B.L.) from Government Law College, Ernakulam but shifted to Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram from where he completed his degree in 1955.
After completion of his B.L. degree, for thirteen months Prof. Menon served as an apprentice to V. Nagappan Nair who was a famous lawyer in Kerala. At the early age of 20, he started his litigation career and got enrolled in the Kerala High Court in 1956. In 1957, he cleared the Civil Services Examination and joined services in Central Secretariat in New Delhi. Along with his job, he got enrolled in M.A. in Political Science from Punjab University.
After completion of M.A., Prof. Menon continued LL.M. and gained a UGC scholarship from which he continued research on white-collar crimes. He was the first person who completed a Ph.D. from faculty of law of Aligarh Muslim University. While pursuing his Ph.D., he also worked as a part-time teacher and warden of Sir Syed Hall University. In 1960, he started teaching at the Aligarh Muslim University and left the university in 1965 to join Delhi University. In Delhi University, he worked as a professor and inspired students to explore more in the field of law. He became an example for his students for multitasking as, during his stay at Delhi University, he also served as the Head of Campus Law Centre, principal of Government Law College Pune and Secretary of the Bar Council of India Trust. While serving as the principal of Government Law College Pune, he drew the ideas of doing away with the old degrading and rotten education system. And, with the execution of all those ideas, he won the title of father of modern legal education in India.
What impacts did he bring to the National Law Schools?
Formation of NLSIU
Prof. Menon was one of the greatest institution builders. His greatest initiative was to build the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), the first National Law University of India. The formation of this institution was a very new and real idea at the same time a great risk. The idea worked and NLSIU flourished and marked the beginning of a new era for the modern legal education system. NLSIU changed the earlier scenario by bringing new standards in the legal education system and opening the ways for formation of subsequent National Law Universities. Now, there are 21 National Law Universities for which the formation of NLSIU served as a pillar in the Indian legal education system. Under the leadership of Prof. Menon, in NLSIU, B.A.LL.B program was initiated which replaced earlier three year LLB course to be pursued after under graduation.
What challenges did Prof. Menon face while making NLSIU a success story?
At that time, there was unavailability of substantive aid to bring and continue such an institution due to the absence of any stable public source of funding. Prof. Menon changed impossible into possible by making a self-sustaining public educational institution. He raised up a variety of resources so that the institution can continue to function without any external fund.
There was a requirement for an outstanding faculty that could meet the standards of education. He formed a committed faculty, encouraged the faculty to engage and communicate more with the students. He kept himself open to the students and was always ready to engage, discuss, debate, contest and argue. Prof. Menon successfully overcame the challenges of study materials, teaching methods and performance assessment with the dedication, experimentation and innovation.
Another challenge which he faced was to balance the education imparted in the institution. He never wanted his students to limit themselves to only academic education but also to understand the technical concepts of law and acquire skills to deal with the practical aspects of law. This way he prepared his students for the practical application of law besides making them ready for the further academic courses.
Impact of NLSIU
Due to academic excellence, social relevance and professional competence, NLSIU came to be known as “the Harvard of the East” amongst the Indian law schools. NLSIU with a record of 100% placement started to lure the best students to join the law school.
The consequences of the reforms brought by Prof. Menon was visible in the improvement of quality of litigation. Under the guidance of Prof. Menon, students with the different goals graduated while imbibed with the dedication and discipline within their personalities. These characteristics took the attention of Bar, Bench, law firms and other users who were astonished by the professionalism and quality of education these graduates had. NLSIU graduates made it possible for the legal profession to stand equal to other professions, giving the same sense of responsibility, position, and pay. This success led to the formation of other law schools which were headed by none but the graduates whom Prof. Menon had trained himself. Therefore, the formation and success of NLSIU played a great role in not only raising the standard of the legal profession but also of the legal education system.
Formation of Fourth Law School
This time the State government made a request to Prof. Menon to establish a National Law University in Calcutta with the promise that there will be no interference of any political organization. He started the establishment of another institution from the base which came to be known as West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Calcutta.
Mostly NLSIU graduates joined either law firms or other forms of the corporate field instead of Bar or NGOs. Prof. Menon believed that the best use of the law is for the upliftment of society. Therefore, he made this college with the hope that within the increasing number of well-versed law graduates, some of them will serve the society.
In NUJS also, he had developed the culture of good work. Like NLSIU, NUJS also started attracting fame and status instantly due to the presence of Prof. Menon who ensured that graduates got a placement as early as possible.
He as the Pioneer of five years integrated law course
Before 1987, legal education was treated more like an option than a choice. Students used to choose law as a career when they could not get through any other thing or were unable to decide what exactly they should do. One could only pursue law by getting admitted into a three year LL.B. after getting a graduate degree. There were only a small number of teachers and students who considered legal education as learning.
Bar Council of India was worried about the degrading status of legal education in India. Bar Council of India shared this concern with Prof. Menon and he agreed to face the challenge of transforming the legal education system. He laid the foundation of modern legal education in India by accepting the invitation of Bar Council of India in 1986 to set-up National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He there for the first time started the five years integrated law course and brought into existence a new model of legal education in India.
The curriculum which he devised under the B.A.LL.B interlinked law with the appropriate social science subjects, therefore, making the legal education integrated, disciplinary and contextual. The curriculum besides the academic education consisted of clinical education and internships during the vacation. Another benefit under the integrated course was that it aimed at improving the legal writing and researching skills as it mandated projects in every subject along with the academic reports. Therefore, the new course allowed the teaching and learning of skills of advocacy along with the other practical application of law which was beneficial not only for the court settings but also for any platform which required governance and justice delivery.
This five years integrated law course saved the students one year which they had to spent if they studied LL.B. after completing their undergraduate degree. His initiative of five years integrated law course allowed the students to choose law as a career immediately after the completion of school. Therefore, he made admission into legal education more of a choice than an option.
What other contributions did he make to the legal field in India?
Law Commission always looked for the advice of Prof. Menon. And, he even became a member of the law commission for two terms. He was made the chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata along with the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. He also assisted in bringing various reforms in the legal field by serving as a member of committees on Criminal Justice, Committee on Equal Opportunity Commission, Criminal Justice Reform and Restructuring of Higher Education in India.
After his retirement in 2006, he was selected as the member of the Commission on Centre-State relations (2006-2010). He started M.K. Nambyar Academy in his hometown Kerala to continue the growth of legal education. He was very concerned for the weaker and underprivileged sections who were not having much access to the law and justice. Therefore, he established another institution Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training for overcoming his concern.
Formation of National Judicial Academy
Prof. Menon not only shared his knowledge with the law school students but he also utilized it for improving the judiciary. He trained and prepared Judges especially the young recruits in the service. Supreme Court asked him to build another institution, this time educational institution was for increasing the functionality of judiciary. He cast his magic spell again and build an institution from scratch to a successful judicial training academy. He established National Judicial Academy in Bhopal and served as its founding director for 2006.
He drew the tactic of ‘solution-driven’ approach within the academy in place of the old ‘teacher-student’ mechanism. He tried to help judges overcoming the obstacles and encouraged them to have discussions in portals for finding the solution to their problems. The Academy under his guidance offered courses to High Court Judges, District Court Judges and State Judicial Academics.
Introduction of Clinical education in law schools
He introduced the concept of clinical education in India. The clinical education was given to communities along with the law students. The clinical education enabled the law students to experiment and apply the law to real-world problems while still studying in law school. Various programs were conducted under the clinical education which elevated the access of justice in the society. Students also acquired the skills of advocacy meanwhile maximizing social justice and getting groomed with professional ethics, therefore, promoting the wider public good.
What did he contribute to the legal literature?
Prof. Menon has been an author to several books. Throughout his lifetime, he tried to address the legal issues by writing upon them and bringing to the notice of the larger public. He was always of the view that one should adapt himself according to the changing time. He applied this on writing to, he not only wrote books but also wrote papers and articles for news blogs like “the Hindu” in order to reach out a large number of people on the legal issues.
While serving as a professor at the Delhi University, Prof. Menon presented his first paper on “legal aid” at Berkeley, California. Later on, he wrote a book on ‘Legal aid and Legal education’ covering the importance of legal aid and benefits of it if it is included in legal education.
He then published his first book with the Eastern Book Company ‘Law Relating to Government Control over Private Enterprises’. After authoring his second book ‘Law and Property’, he released his autobiography ‘Turning point’ which describes the journey of life and works of Prof. Menon in the field of law.
On 2012, Prof. Menon presented a paper in Harvard College titled ‘The Transformation of Indian Legal Education‘ which is a part of “blue paper”, a series of substantial essay, speech and opinion pieces by various legal professionals. He discussed legal education reforms from pre-independence to the formation of national law schools in India. He also stated the problems and loopholes with the current legal education system and recommended solutions to make the modern legal education system a better one.
He also authored books like Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon’s Reflections on Legal and Judicial Education, Education and Public Health, Clinical Legal Education.
Prof. Menon was very concerned with the role of the judiciary. He not only set-up National Judicial Academy but also wrote several articles addressing the issues in the judicial system and also suggested solutions for overcoming the problems. He wrote books like Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon’s reflections on legal and judicial education, Population and Law: Justice for all, Law and ethics.
In 2008, he addressed on Law and Justice: A look at the role and performance of Indian Judiciary at the Berkeley Seminar Series on Law and Democracy, University of California. He discussed:
- Delay, arrears or pendency in access to justice,
- Judicial activism, Constitutional governance, and human rights protection,
- Judicial corruption, judicial independence, and judicial accountability.
On 12th October 2016, he published a blog post on Judicial delay may become a thing of the past where he discussed the judicial reforms that were aimed to be achieved from the twelfth five-year plan. He analyzed the plans and stated the missing goals in the plan that was to be followed for achieving more efficiency in the Judicial System of India.
What suggestions he had for improving the modern legal education system?
While writing on The Transformation of Indian Legal Education, a paper he submitted to Harvard law school, where he expressed the grief on the lack of competent teachers in the best National Law Schools. He was sad about the fact that bright law graduates do not continue their post graduation in Indian Law Schools and do not proceed with teaching and researching. He suggested that faculty in the law schools need to be improved which would otherwise lead students with a strong financial background to join foreign institutions. Prof. Menon was invited by DSNLU Visakhapatnam on its ninth foundation day where he gave a lecture on “Legal Education for Resurgent Andhra Pradesh”. He gave the following suggestions to improve the current legal education system:
- He complained that Bar Council of India had failed to transform the education system according to the new Constitution adopted but has stuck to the old system by making court-centric litigation as the main goal of the legal education system. He advised that changes should be made in the curriculum and standards of education.
- He recommended that law universities should develop research methodologies to conduct studies on the issues of society and also devise the solution for the same.
- He stated that there should be a separation between academic and professional courses provided by the law universities. Professional courses should prepare students by providing more opportunities to groom their skills and practical applicability of the law.
- Both law universities and its professors should maintain high standards of theoretical and practical knowledge along with developing new courses.
- The current system of legal education should be transformed into justice education. Law and Legal education should consider people more while framing the rules. There should be experiential. Legal research and innovation should be encouraged more. Legal education should be updated and consistent with science and technology.
- There should be Legal Practice Incubation Clinic (LPIC) which would help in developing skills, attitudes, and ethics by providing experiential learning. LPIC should provide opportunities for students to work in rural and tribal habitations. And, has to pay a stipend to its students for such work and also provide a certificate of Rural Legal Practice. Therefore, encouraging students to serve society.
- LPIC should have a Clinical Professor as its in-charge and sufficient fund should be allocated for its working. Paralegal volunteers from the locality can serve as an intermediate between the students and communities to help in formulating the schemes in the best interest of the society.
- The academic studies should be finished in the first four years of law schools. In the final year, students who wish to join law firm should be spending their time in the law firm, those who wish to join litigation should be placed with some senior advocates and students interested in ADR should be working with the experts in that field.
Recently, when the Common Law Admission Test came out as a huge blunder in 2018, a conference of Vice- Chancellors of National Law Universities was conducted from 1st-2nd September 2018 for addressing Legal Education Reforms. Prof. Menon was also a member of the conference as Honorary Director of Bar Council of Kerala. He gave the following suggestions while giving the introductory address:
- The Legal education system is collapsing as legal personnel has not corresponded with the changing times. Therefore, legal personnel should adapt according to new and changing technologies. He also advised referring to USA and Canada which have successfully implemented ‘Continuing Legal Education and Professional Development Systems’.
- Even after having excellent infrastructure, facilities, best resources, and cream of talent, national law universities are unable to fulfil its goal due to the mismatch between student-body and teacher-body. He warned and advised to take seriously the incompetence of teacher-body as National Law Universities have the responsibility of nation-building for which they require the best faculty.
- Law Students should be trained with lawyering skills which will help them in starting legal practice on their own after graduation.
- During legal education, a student should acquire ethics, constitutional culture and values of a responsible citizen.
- Institutions providing legal education should have a mission to realize meaningful legal education in India.
National Law Universities should work upon their deficiencies on their own and should not leave everything for the Bar Council of India.
Why will he always be remembered?
Prof. Menon was a very influential human being, a man of integrity and high character. He was a very disciplined and innovative person who always supported the usage of modern technology. He was an institution-builder who faced so many challenges but still successfully created three institutions which served as the pillars of many other institutions. He also provided leadership to these institutions. There are various awards which have been introduced to honour him like Madhav Menon Best Law Teacher Award. Such awards will always keep his name alive. He died on 8th May 2019 and people are still writing about him, talking about his contribution and sharing their experiences. Bar Association of India and the Society of Indian law firms have already requested Chief Justice of India to call for a full court in the memory of Prof. Menon. He had contributed so much to the legal field that it is just next to impossible to forget his contributions. His students will continue the legacy which he created back in 1983 quashing down the old and rotten legal education system.
Those who were taught by him or have met him will always show the footprints he had left in their life. Therefore, he will continue to breathe along with the improving legal education system.